France's EDF Accused of Dumping Nuclear Waste in Siberia

PARIS, Oct. 14 (UPI) — Paris is demanding answers from EDF after allegations surfaced that the state-owned energy giant is dumping nuclear waste in Siberia.

A documentary broadcast on TV channel Arte Tuesday showed footage of what appeared to be nuclear waste out in the Russian countryside.

The report claims that EDF, the world’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, ships 13 percent of its spent fuel to Siberia where it is left in metal containers in the open. More than 1,500 tons of waste is sitting in Siberia, the documentary said.

“This is really dirty stuff, as it contains harmful radioisotopes like uranium 236,” Mycle Schneider, a nuclear policy consultant, was quoted as saying by French newspaper La Liberation. “There’s absolutely no use for this (depleted uranium). It’s sitting in the rain. The main problem is its toxicity as a heavy metal.”

The company has denied the allegations. Silvain Granger, head of EDF’s nuclear fuel division, said the material sent to Siberia is uranium that is enriched and later reused in European power plants.

“The material, which is sent (there) is valuable material and not waste. We do not send waste to Russia,” Granger told the BBC.

The company claims that it sends its radioactive waste for processing and storage to Areva’s La Hague site in Normandy.

But Paris is not convinced.

Chantal Jouanno, the deputy minister for ecology, called for an inquiry to “confirm or reject” the allegations.

“We cannot allow the slightest possibility of suspicion that there is a problem,” Jouanno said on French radio. “It has to be completely transparent.”

The allegations come as France’s quest for a nuclear waste storage site is ongoing.

France plans to store reprocessed spent fuel in a clay formation underground; it chose the location at La Bure in 1998 and is planning to have a working repository in place hopefully by 2025.

But storing nuclear waste is harder than it sounds. The different types of waste radiate from 10,000 years to several million years; they would need to be sealed in repositories that are completely secure for such a period of time to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences in the case of leakage. Naturally, there exists no practical experience with such a long-term project — and short-term experience has been quite worrisome, with several storage projects failing.

EDF runs 58 nuclear reactors in France — which produce 80 percent of the country’s electricity — and eight in Britain. There, the company plans to invest billions into four new nuclear power plants.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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